The importance of being agile in a startup



Agility isn't just for Spiderman (who keeps sneaking into Repositive content btw, see here and here), but after 2 years at Repositive I've learned that to work for a startup is to be agile.




What do I mean by agile?

adjective

  1. able to move quickly and easily - "Charlotte was as agile as a monkey" (sooo appropriate)

  2. relating to or denoting a method of project management, used especially for software development, that is characterized by the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent reassessment and adaption of plans. - "agile methods replace high-level design with frequent redesign"



When I refer to being agile, I am actually talking about both! And don't think being agile is just for software development either, Marketing (aka. me) has learnt to become agile, because in a startup things can change very, very quickly. I learnt to replace a single high-level plan with frequent redesign on smaller plans.


Fluid floors

I have been at Repositive for just over 2 years. I am employee number 10 and I have seen 3 office moves, 2 rounds of investment and the team grow from about 10 people to 22 people (soon to be 24). What I have learned is that to succeed the business and team needs to be flexible. All tasks should exist to accomplish a goal, but goals in a start-up can move or change! Repositive is high growth and you have to think fast and fail fast. Take the opportunities that arise, change, iterate and reassess. Is this task making an impact? No, move on. Repositive is data and feedback driven, although some things shouldn't change direction in a click, others need to.





Let's take an example. Close your eyes... Oh silly, now you can't read! OK, then picture the scene... You are exhibiting at an event in Copenhagen, it's a tech event. You are expecting to meet investors and your scheduled talk is all about investment verticles and the challenges being in-between two verticles. Your stand advertises the talk, which is on the first day, but you are approached by a string of talented young people looking for jobs and interested in what you do. What do you do? You change your poster and plaster you are recruiting all over your stand! You take our your phone, get the link for your awesome company culture video and you tweet about your vacancies and invite everyone to come to the stand to learn more. Then your CEO adds at the end of her talk, "we are growing and hiring, to find out more visit our stand". That for me and Marketing is being agile and moving quickly and easily!

Another example, more Project Management this time, relates to Content Marketing. Content marketing is all about attracting people through the content you write. These can be opinion based, how-to guides, topical and press releases. Unique content is also rather liked by Google when ranking pages! Marketing could create a 12-month strategy for content in advance, so in 10 months I know exactly what to write about and take away the effort of brainstorming each month what to write next. But things change a lot in 12 months! Let's say we take on a new grant or a new project. 12 months is a long time, and to be rigid and stick to what was planned 12 months ago means you do not support new priorities and miss opportunities. So every 3 months I review the content schedule. I add any new content ideas and with a small team review the order. I break down the plan into 1-month content sprints and I review every quarter the coming themes. I am applying agile working to content writing.



Fluid floors can reek havoc on rigid structures. High-rise buildings in areas prone to earthquakes have flexible rubber foundations that can absorb tremors. Windows and outer panels can sway during earth movements and even computer-controlled weights on the roof to reduce movement. Rigid structures can be strong, but inflexible and crumble when the foundations around them move. Good project management doesn't need to be strong and rigid, but instead be able to take stress whilst maintaining form.




EVENT TIP

If you have a stand at an event, create a noticeboard which can be interchangeable. So you can customise it not only for different events, but change the board at the same event throughout the day. Have signage for your involvement, your services, your jobs etc. Take them all with you, so if you need to change your tactic on the day, you have the ability too.


Strategy vs flexibility

Strategy requires forward planning. It requires estimations driven on data, projections, campaigns, channels... to name but a few. Especially in Marketing, things can take time before you see fruition. If you want to attract 10,000 new users in 6 months, you cannot do it from day one. You have a string of campaigns and use everything you have at each stage to unlock the next step. You build momentum, you set expectations, you turn heads but keep them turned; you keep them engaged and excited. You turn interested parties into advocates.



So, how can you balance strategy against shifting floors and changing goals. Well, it's taken 2 years for me to figure this out.

  1. Keep your eye on the prize. Don't lose sight of the goal over the need to perform the task. There is more than one way to achieve a goal, so just because you thought nah one particular path was the best, you are allowed to change your mind based on trying to execute the strategy. Remember there are many paths.

  2. Give your self time to reflect. It took me a long time to learn this one! There is always a lot to do. It's very easy just to work non-stop, one task straight to the other and the other and try to tick off more things on your to-do list than what you add. But you should always give yourself time to breathe, to think, to review what is on your list. It's good to think why am I doing this? You sometimes find the requirements change, so the tasks should also change... sometimes even stop altogether.

  3. Build channels and campaigns in marketing which can be adaptable. Part of marketing is building channels and audiences. This takes time and regular work. Blogs need regular content. Twitter needs regular tweets. Email lists need regular (but not too regular) updates. However, remember that channels and campaigns are independent. You need to tweet, blog and email, but why and what can change to be strategic. So don't try to maintain channels and then plan lots of content and then create strategies separately on top. Look at how you can repurpose tasks to both maintain but also serve part of a larger strategic goal.


Can agile working waste time?

Yes absolutely, I think it can. But I think you need to consider why are you being agile! Are you being agile because you do not know what you want to achieve (so you flit from different things)? Are you being agile because you do not know how to achieve it (so you are trying everything in the hope something works)? Or are you being agile because there are many ways to achieve success and as you grow where to push and support changes?

Agile is no substitution for a lack of strategy. Agile becomes part of your strategy. The key is to factor in flexibility. To be agile as and when it is needed. Just because you plan something 3 months ahead, doesn't mean you have to change it or else you are not being agile. Or, just because you are flexible it doesn't mean you need to backflip to the office!

But you can, if you need to.




STRESS TIP

Do not be afraid to fail! Fear creates dread and dread creates stress! Don't get stressed! Failing is OK as long as you learn what to change and what to do differently next time. Every failure is an opportunity to learn and an expert is just someone who has failed a lot and learned from it.


Company Culture

Being agile is part of the Repositive culture. We also pride ourselves on collective intelligence, think fast and fail fast and open... well, open everything (science, source, access etc). It's a quality we look for in hires. If you think the startup life is for you, you can check out our jobs page here. Or see more of what makes Repositive, Repositive here.




Open vacancies

Business Development Associate

Executive Assistant

Product Design Lead

Lead Back-End Engineer

Lead Front-End Engineer




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